Are the Hearns really the right men to take Rugby League forward?

Ever since Nigel Wood announced he was to step down as Chief Executive of the RFL, there has been a constant barrage of speculation surrounding the future of the sport. At the centre of this speculation are father and son duo, Barry and Eddie Hearn, promoters who have taken the likes of snooker, darts and boxing and transformed them into world-renowned sports. Many people involved in #Rugby League - whether fans, pundits, or those at the top themselves - have had their say on whether or not the Hearns should take Rugby League by the scruff of its neck.

Snooker

After a period in the fashion industry and property development, father Barry Hearn became chairman of Romford's Lucania Snooker Clubs in 1974 and began leading promotions in amateur tournaments.
Then, in a meeting which would have major implications on the world of snooker forever, in 1976, Steve Davis began playing at the Lucania Club. In 1982, Hearn's infiltration into the snooker world was looking inevitable when Riley Leisure acquired the chain of Lucania Snooker Clubs for £3.1 million which left Barry free to concentrate on the development of snooker, both in the UK and overseas.
With the formation of Matchroom Sport in 1982 with snooker players Steve Davis and Tony Meo, Hearn was able to turn his abilities to develop a stable of top snooker players and ultimately produce televised events. From this moment onwards, Hearn - and snooker - went from strength to strength, with Hearn later recruiting the likes of Willie Thorne, Jimmy White, and Ronnie O'Sullivan to join his Matchroom revolution. And, in June 2010, following a vote by the members of the WPBSA (the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association), Hearn took over a 51% controlling interest in the organisation's commercial business World Snooker Limited with a view to revitalising the game even further.

Boxing

Barry Hearn's ambitions did not stop at snooker and his next conquest was to be the boxing circuit. After moving into the sport in 1987, Hearn's first promotion was the titanic clash between Frank Bruno and Joe Bugner bout at Tottenham's White Hart Lane in October 1987. Hearn, yet again, saw an opportunity to make his mark on another sport. Since then, Hearn has promoted many leading British and Irish boxers, including Chris Eubank, Lennox Lewis and Nigel Benn.
In over two decades, Hearn had rejuvenated the sport and transformed it into one of the most-watched arena games in the world. And, in an even more ambitious attempt to make boxing stand out further, in April 2008 Hearn introduced the Prizefighter series - a knockout tournament featuring eight different boxers in a last-man-standing competition.
His son Eddie now manages the boxing side of the business.

Darts and other sports

But, the elder Hearn was not finished there; through the 1990s, Hearn turned a number of niche sports into major TV attractions with a succession of innovative ideas. Relatively unknown sports such as fishing and tenpin bowling were given a major boost by Hearn as he scoured the ever-increasing sporting market. And, one of Hearn's greatest successes has been the impressive evolution of darts.
His acquisition of a majority shareholding in the Professional Darts Corporation in 2001, saw him appointed Chairman. The PDC, under Hearn's stewardship, went from a little-known company to one of the world's most recognised. The dynamics of the game have been changed forever; from a mocked, "pub" game to a globalised circus, darts has truly come a long way since the Hearns dipped their toe into the sport.

Matchroom Sport

All three of these sporting revolutions have been achieved under the umbrella of Barry Hearn's marketing brainchild, Matchroom Sport. Since its creation in the early 1980s, Matchroom Sport has developed into one of the world's leading independent suppliers of quality sports programming. Son Eddie has taken up the boxing mantle, focusing on fulfilling the company's exclusive televised boxing deal until 2021 with Sky Sports, to broadcast up to 20 live shows a year. The younger Hearn also promotes Matchroom Sports world boxing champions Anthony Joshua, Ryan Burnett and Khalid Yafai.

The company has not only taken snooker, boxing and darts by storm, but it is also involved in pool, golf, fishing, ping pong, poker and, as of late 2016, gymnastics. Even football has not escaped the attention of the Hearns; Matchroom Sport now sponsors the football ground of English League Two team Leyton Orient with the former name Brisbane Road being edged out. Barry Hearn even used to be a director at the club.

Could this be good for Rugby League?

The Hearns quite obviously have an impeccable business knowledge and understand how to expand sports on an international stage. They have taken previously subordinate sports such as boxing, snooker and darts and made them into universally recognised ones; all three sports have, arguably, been changed for the better.
The wealth of contacts that both men must have built up over the past three decades can only be positive if the two men choose to come into Rugby League. The likes of Anthony Joshua could be used in an advertising sense in an attempt to widen the brand of what is currently considered to be an "M62 corridor" sport. Replacing the laughable Super League advert - which includes triathlon pair Jonny and Alistair Brownlee - which seems to mock and underestimate what Rugby League players can achieve with one that features Joshua which lauds the strength and ability of our athletes, would instantly demonstrate a better product.

The father and son duo also have an unbelievable relationship with Sky - the company that makes the sporting world go round. With this relationship comes unprecedented exposure; the media giants have often left Rugby League on the back-burner whilst other sports such as Football and F1 acquire most of the limelight. Surely the Hearns could go some way to ending this ignorance?

Be wary

Yet the Hearns are in the marketing business for a reason. Three of the Hearns' major successes - darts, snooker and boxing - are self-contained spectacles. There is just one stadium or arena where all competitors throw their darts, push their cues or throw punches. In contrast, Rugby League transcends cities and towns in England, France and now even Canada in one weekend. Rather than just playing a one-off, winner-takes-all, hyped-up-to-the-extreme almost circus exhibition match, Super League sides will play a mammoth 169 games over the course of eight months, whilst not forgetting that there are hundreds - if not thousands - of local amateur sides. Even Under-7s that get their weekly rugby fix.
Would the Hearns have the staying power over the eight months or are they capable of delivering for one night only? Rugby League is stuck in a rut at the minute, but the sport is a whole other world away from boxing and darts. Could you just imagine Castleford Tigers walking out at the Jungle to disco ball lights and dry ice, captain Michael Shenton swaggering about the place as he led his team onto the field?

But, whilst darts, boxing and snooker are one entity, British Rugby League is not; the Super League, Championship and League One have to compete with their antipodean rival, the NRL. Bring in the dominance of the Aussies on an international level and the loss of English talent to the NRL and the British game has underlying fissures and problems. These are problems that cannot just be solved by two men taking over that have no experience whatsoever in the sport.
Rugby League is a far cry away from what the Hearns are used to and this should perhaps be taken deep into consideration when fans hail the Hearns as the messiahs coming to save our sport.

Callum Walker

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